Former U.S. President Bill Clinton leads a panel discussion during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Reuters

Trade with Africa remains a major untapped market for U.S. businesses, said former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday in the latest push from U.S. officials to encourage investment in some of the world's most struggling nations.

President Barack Obama and other U.S. leaders are focusing on Africa's investment potential during the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a three-day event that began Monday. Nearly 50 heads of state are attending the meeting in Washington, D.C., where roughly $900 million in business and trade deals are expected to be announced this week. Obama is scheduled to give the closing remarks at the conference on Wednesday, according to the White House. More than 90 U.S. companies are also slated to participate in the event, the largest ever gathering of African leaders on U.S. soil.

"We are missing the boat," said Clinton during the meeting on Tuesday. "This is a very important part of our future."

With China making big bucks from its African investments, U.S. leaders are hoping the summit will help them compete. Africa includes six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies and is home to an emerging middle class, according to the Washington Post. The U.S. conducted most of its trade in 2013 with only five countries -- Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Egypt and Algeria. Mineral fuels account for more than half of the commodities imported to the U.S.

U.S. annual trade with Africa stands at roughly $85 billion, compared with the continent's $200 billion trade with China. Growing security concerns surrounding Islamic insurgents across the continent have also made Africa a priority for the Obama administration.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma both backed out of attending the summit because of the worsening Ebola crisis in those nations.